Why do we even need to believe that there is a new Silicon Valley?
Did you hear that there is a new region that has a booming tech sector? They are building websites, apps, hardware, software, and other buzzworthy 'tech-y' things that are changing the way the world works. These startups have grown into successful international business and have dug their roots into the local community. And you know what…? They are doing things a little bit differently than Silicon Valley, creating a culture that is just as innovative without the opulence, excess, and ego of the Bay Area. In fact, this new region might actually be the new Silicon Valley.
New York City is Silicon Alley.
Austin is the home of the Silicon Hills.
Atlanta is Silicon Valley of the South.
Portland is Silicon Forest.
Charleston is Silicon Harbor.
DUMBO is Silicon Beach.
London is Silicon Roundabout.
The Midwest is the Silicon Prairie.
Before you know it, your regional media might construct a Silicon-based pseudonym for the cluster of your city's rapidly changing tech sector.
Last week's CBS report on Silicon Prairie led me down a spiral of 'the Next Silicon Valley' content. Over and over again, local, national, and international media sources are eager to run the story that a new Silicon Valley is emerging in a different part of the world. In this instance, the report highlighted development in Lincoln, Nebraska, Kansas City, Missouri, and Des Moines, Iowa. Traveling to the Silicon-Valley-ish workspaces of successful tech businesses, the reporter profiled the impact of successful entrepreneurship in the region. Move over traditionally successful regional industries… there's a new player in the game.
When creating #NewSiliconValley content, the media outlet usually picks a CEO that boldly decided to flee Silicon Valley, and they will ask the figure to contrast the corporate and cultural values of their region to those of Silicon Valley. They will speak highly of the talent and morale of the company. The regional lifestyle allows their employees to find comfort in the middle-class existence of a corporate tech career, rather than the digital and economic angst that is inescapable in Silicon Valley. They basically carved out their own valley and can 'play by their own rules.'
Silicon Valley is America's greatest unnatural resource. It is a place where unicorns are created, and bubbles grow to create new billionaires and tools that empower the world. Money is printed by businesses that are grown within an industry infrastructure that is conceptually intangible even to 'techies.' To most Americans, Silicon Valley is a theme park that they'll never get to visit, but they can order the souvenirs in the form of smartphones and apps. It's easy to see why we all want to believe we live in a Silicon Valley.
Whether it is in the Midwestern United States, or in the Middle East, the bait of an emerging tech boom gives the content consumer the idea that innovation is happening in more places than they realize… Maybe even in their own neck of the woods. This type of content usually creates a viral article in a community that wants to feel like they are 'getting recognition.' As the region changes, these media mentions will be the historical record that validated any changes.
A similar media narrative is constructed over and over again. Entrepreneurs are leaving the high costs and pretension of Silicon Valley behind, creating a new culture in a new hub. They are reinvigorating regional economies and tapping local university systems for skilled, affordable talent. Isn't this just how businesses work, staying transient as the industry looks to minimize costs as global viability makes more companies able to sustain profits?
Silicon Valley is a blanket term for economic success to most Americans
Those who believe in the sanctity of one Silicon Valley would say that tech sector growth in 'second tier' sections of the country represents a desire for cheaper real estate and labor. They are 'plateauing' startups who are no longer growing enough to warrant interest from investors that aren't interested in companies headquartered in flyover states. These new Silicon Valleys provide companies with the opportunity to pay livable wages to entry-level and middle-management employees who can one day complete the American Dream of homeownership instead of riding a corporate-funded bus to their campus. Vacant buildings in the urban core of cities that once chose suburbia over urban development are being filled with #Millennial talent working to make their employers more valuable.
Why do we even need to believe that there is a new Silicon Valley? It's a very roundabout nationalistic angle, falsely representing the scale of a business and financial networking opportunities in a new corridor of technology companies. It's great that a company like Hudl and their 230 employees (as of 2015) secured a $72.5 million round of funding last year, digging their roots in Lincoln, Nebraska. But in nearby Omaha, Union Pacific Railroad has a 1.2 million squarefoot headquarters that houses 4,000 people. Meanwhile, no region has come into the universe of Silicon Valley on dollars invested or the percentage of deals closed, according to CB Insights, which wrote that "we see lots of breathless proclamations from other cities and regions that they are the 'next Silicon Valley,'"
At times, these 'new Silicon Valley' pieces feel like an advertorial for a region's economy and real estate prospects when there are already industries that are vital in providing important goods and services to regional communities. The sense of hope skews glorifies technology as the backbone of America.
In contrast to the hopeful New American Silicon Valley pieces, there are also those that expose 'new Silicon Valleys' in other countries like China, South Korea, and the Middle East. These outlets tap into a paranoia that perhaps our country isn't as innovative as we imagine. Our great unnatural resource might not be innovative or talented any more, and we are being overtaken by international competitors. Most steak eatin', content readin' Americans would probably prefer to read that there is a new Silicon Valley around the corner, rather than many of them popping up in foreign lands.
Until the next stock market crash, bubble burst, or unicorn sleighing tragedy, Silicon Valley is a blanket term for economic success to most Americans. It's not just a place, but an era of opportunity for American talent that produced disruptive change that perhaps gave us an advantage in the global economy. It's a source of pride, where the hardware, software, or service that changed our lives' was probably made or facilitated. Reading that there is a new Silicon Valley sure feels good, but we are already fortunate enough to have the Silicon Valley for a little while before valleys of silicon are obsolete.